Prophets are known in many ancient cultures.

For Jews a Prophet is a "Proclaimer" from the Hebrew word Nabi. They are believed to have supernatural powers as "Men of God" (1 Samuel 9 etc) and "Servants of God" (2 Kings 21:10 etc). Nabi was translated into Greek not as "Mantis" but as "Prophetes" meaning interpreter (1 Corinthians 12:29). They foretell but also forthtell or proclaim.

In the Hebrew Scriptures there are: five books of the Prophet Moses; four major Prophets (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and Daniel); and twelve minor prophets (Hosea to Malachi).

Many historians believe that, in spite of the modern arrangement of our OT, the prophets came before the law and formed the basis of the distinctive Jewish religion and ethics.

Their sayings were recorded for teaching and liturgical purposes not as history and such history is coloured by hindsight. In Judaism prophecy after Malachi continued in the "Disembodied" in the inBat Qol; in Christianity it continued through the Gospels (John Baptist, Jesus) into the early Church (1 Corinthians 12:10). (Incidentally, Joel, Daniel and probably Isaiah 24-27 were written after Malachi).

Prophets always recount or imply (eg, The Word of the Lord came to ...) their first encounter with God (Isaiah 6:1-7; Paul 12:1-4; John of Patmos Revelation 1:1-3; 22:18-19) to reinforce their authenticity and testify to their, sometimes reluctantly accepted (Jonah), inner compulsion. Many experience turmoil and dread, notably Elijah (1 Kings 19; nb the traditional word "voice" in Verse 12 might be "sound" or even a kind of tinnitus). The idea that The Word of the Lord came upon prophets may not be historically true in every case but the widespread use of the 'idea shows that the phenomenon was historical.

Prophesying is sometimes collective (Numbers 11:16-30 describing the "Seventy Prophets", the origin of the Sanhedrin) and contagious (26-29). What they said was believed both to foretell (Deuteronomy 18:9-22) and affect events but through God not themselves. They worked miracles, less in the writing Prophets (Isaiah 38:8) than in Judges and Kings and most in the person of Moses.

Prophets were imprisoned (Jeremiah 37), ignored (Isaiah 6:9), persecuted (2 Kings 17:31), "Despised and rejected" (Isaiah 53:1) but some were 'institutionalised', consulted by kings and politicians (1 Samuel 28:3-25), resided at court or members of guilds. Some prophets seem to be against the Temple cult but others were priests; Jeremiah was against the cult (Jeremiah 7:21) but taught in the Temple (Jeremiah 28); (the Hebrew term for priest Kohen shares the root with the Arabic Kahin for prophet).

Taken from

Sawyer, John F.A.: Prophecy and the Biblical Prophets, OUP, (Revised 1991), ISBN 0 19 826209 4; Chapter 1. The Phenomenon of Prophecy pp1-25

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